Doom is one of the oldest forms of heavy metal, a classic and brooding sound whose origins essentially go back to those of the beginning of metal itself, more specifically, Black Sabbath’s self-titled first album. It’s come a long way since 1970, having morphed into various mutations and metamorphases, some of which don’t sound much like that dark, heavy classic rock staple at all, but still carry on its ominous and bleak spirit. It’s been made all the more massive and crushing by bands like Yob, blended with shoegaze by bands like Jesu, and reduced to a rumbling, primitive drone by bands like Sunn O))). There’s essentially not much you can’t do with some molasses-paced, unbearably heavy riffs and a little outside-the-box thinking. Yet preserving the classic, foundational doom metal sound while attempting to create anything novel is a bit harder to pull off.
Little Rock, Ark. quartet Pallbearer aren’t strict traditionalists in the vein of American pioneers Pentagram or Trouble, aiming instead for a sprawling, thunderous trudge with roots in Sweden’s Candlemass. Their debut album Sorrow & Extinction is, unmistakably, a classic doom metal album, one whose rumble could fell stone structures, and whose pace seems to stop time itself, if only to expose all that’s both beautiful and horrific about it at once. That alone would be enough to at least make Pallbearer worth a listen or two, but their progressive strain of doom goes much deeper than that. While the five tracks on Sorrow & Extinction each stretch beyond eight minutes, the longest reaching a pretty hefty 12, not a one of them ever loses its sense of intrigue or captivating melodic course. It’s slow, it’s long, and it’s informed by some lofty prog-rock ideals, but one thing this massive achievement never becomes is boring.
In the first track, “Foreigner,” which coincidentally is also Sorrow & Extinction‘s longest, Pallbearer encapsulate the very essence of what makes their unique take on doom such a breathtaking one. The band take their time in igniting the spark that sets the epic temple ablaze, allowing a sparse acoustic track to unfold for two minutes before a screeching howl of feedback precedes the gigantic tremor that sets in motion a 10-minute descent into darkened melodies, and intertwining guitar riffs at once triumphant and devastating. “Foreigner” is a lot to absorb, but its sheer power, wrapped in strangely beautiful garb, makes it a compelling masterpiece of a dirge.
The inevitable downside to stacking such an incredible track right at the beginning is that it leaves a lot to live up to, a feat that proves even more difficult when that track is such a draining, lengthy experience as well. And if the other four slices of Sorrow & Extinction don’t quite reach that level of transcendence, they’re hardly disappointments. The band surges right into a fuzz-drenched sludge churn on “Devoid of Redemption,” while letting their riffs ascend to the heavens rather than descend into the murky depths on mesmerizing standout “The Legend.” And the ethereal synths that back closer “Given to the Grave” seem to betray its gloomy facade, sounding graceful, ethereal, even moving.
What’s funny about doom metal on the whole is that its characteristics are based on the darkest and most depressive elements of heavy metal, yet when crafted with the utmost care, can actually end up having the opposite effect. Sorrow & Extinction certainly lurks in shadowy depths, and might even sound better come the darkest days of autumn, but there’s no denying that something inspirational and strangely life affirming lies within.
Label: 20 Buck Spin/Profound Lore
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.